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Foraging at Farm Stands on Salt Spring Island

Published On: July 9, 2021Tags: , , , ,

Written by Stephania Jean with story photos

Feature photo by Stasia Garraway

Try something different this season: rethink your usual grocery routine by going farm stand foraging on Salt Spring Island. Step away from the fluorescent lights, the Muzak, and the shopping cart traffic. Forget about dizzying aisles of products stacked on top of products and plan a visit to the source of it all, on island farms. Reacquaint yourself with what fresh means–not a date on a sticker, but a certain taste from something just pulled off a tree. Make a wish list, and then go slowly from farm to farm.

Instead of a chore, shopping becomes a treasure hunt. Plot your course and connect the dots with a drive in your car along quiet country roads. Allow for enough time to stop and sample the wares in the sunshine and indulge in eating ripe fruit right out of a basket on the roadside. The island way of life encourages it.

If you’re a farm stand newbie, Salt Spring is a great spot to begin. It’s full of incredible working farms that offer their products for sale in the form of farm stands. Most operate on the honor system and the majority of these are open-air, with no-touch payment options in the form of e-transfer or a good old-fashioned cash box.

Are you ready?

Here’s a small sample of some of the best farm stands on Salt Spring Island for you to explore.

North End Farm

North End Farm is a destination in itself, so allow yourself ample time there on your visit. Point your car north and head to the top end of the island, and you’ll find this 164-acre farm sitting quietly by the sea. It’s a perfect dream of a place, reached by a gravel road that meanders by fields of livestock and wildflowers. The farmstand is actually in an old barn that cozies up to another barnyard where sheep sit and blink in the sunshine as you peruse shelves heavy with fruit and vegetables.

But don’t stop there–venture inside the farm stand/barn and check out the inside, too. The owners have been providing Salt Spring with produce, eggs, and delectable baked goods through their quaint farm stand for many years. While locals know and love North End Farm’s CSA boxes, visitors can still join the produce party by purchasing it directly from the stand.

In addition to providing fruit and vegetables that they’ve grown on their farm the owners bake some of the best cinnamon rolls on the island. It’s no stretch to craft a complete meal from the other items they stock, like local sausages, ground meat, rabbit, chicken, and bread. And it’s easy to be tempted by packaged goods like coffee from Mt. Maxwell Coffee, pies from Salt Spring Pie Co., vinegar from Salt Spring Island Vinegar, and other local products. Plus, once your shopping is done you can have a ramble through the nearby hiking trails that run past the farm or drive a few minutes to Southy Point to picnic on the beach.

Laughing Apple Farm

Though it is just a short hop from Ganges, Laughing Apple Farm still feels like a world apart in the best way possible. The 160+ acre farm has a long history that dates back to the 1880’s, and the current owners are only the second family to farm there. They follow Canadian Organic Standards and the land maintains a balance between being farmed and cultivated, and wild.

In addition to their orchard and vegetable gardens, they’ve been keeping bees for over a decade. You can sample some of this beehive history by purchasing honey from those very bees in the streamlined and modern farm stand that is perched on the edge of Beddis Road.

Another one of the must-have items that Laughing Apple is known for is their apple juice, naturally. Their house-made apple juice utilizes almost 20 different varieties of apples from their orchard, depending on the time in the season. The apples are pressed in-house and bottled for sale both at the farm stand and at the Salt Spring Island Market. And on any given day, you might find homemade frozen tomato sauce, eggs, fruit, and vegetables in their fridges. Finally, fellow gardeners shouldn’t miss out on the side yard where they often sell a selection of plant starts. There are beautiful botanicals available almost year-round that are raised in the nearby greenhouses.

Mt. Maxwell Coffee

Non-locals may be familiar with Mt. Maxwell Coffee thanks to their growing presence in markets on Vancouver Island, but it’s worth making the trek to the source on Salt Spring. Tucked in the shade of Mt. Maxwell, this coffee enterprise has a tiny roadside stand on Cranberry Road.

And the offerings? Coffee, coffee, and more coffee. The stand provides a variety of their in-house roasted coffee beans in regular and bulk bags. This locally produced coffee is roasted in a yurt–yes, that’s right–a yurt, and because it’s Salt Spring, it’s usually accompanied by music. This special kind of island quirkiness also extends to the branding. Cheeky labels boast signage like “There has been mention that this smooth and satisfying blend of Central and Southern American beans’ addictive nature may cause badass behaviour.” And the coffees are christened with names like Evil Brew and Sasquatch Reserve. But don’t be fooled by the light-hearted bag banter. Mt. Maxwell coffee has real depth and a richness that many commercial coffee brands miss the mark on. The owner takes great care in ensuring that the beans get off to a great start in life with a balanced roast. The result is a coffee that hits velvet-soft heights in your mouth when paired with milk. It’s a pleasurable addiction to succumb to. You’ve been warned–so try a bag, or two, or even one of their massive bulk bags if you really need a caffeine fix to hold you over to the next island visit.

Stowel Lake Farm

When you’re ready to dive into the wilds that are the Deep South, put Stowel Lake Farm at the top of your list. This property is not just a farm, but a true hub in the community. It also offers workshops, retreats, farm stays, and culinary events for both locals and visitors alike. This is not a static operation, but one that is ever evolving and adapting to the needs of the population there. And there’s an awareness of future generations, too. Along with growing fruit and vegetables in their two-acre market garden Stowel Lake Farm also contributes seeds to the very important Heritage and Heirloom Organic Seed Catalog on Salt Spring Island.

The open-air farm stand is a serene place to shop in, a gorgeous earth-colored structure with a living roof. It is constantly stocked with fruit, vegetables, eggs from the farm’s resident chickens and other treats. Locals enjoy the random potential of culinary surprises when visiting, too. There’s the possibility that you’ll arrive on one of their Lunch Days and be treated to a comforting bowl of stew with bread. Fans of their prepared food can find recipes on their website and take classes on the farm. Or the stand might be bursting at the seams with colorful bouquets of flowers that are grown on the farm.

This is just a tiny sample of the rich bounty of farms and farm stands that Salt Spring Island has to offer. For more information, check out places like the Visitor Center through Salt Spring Island Tourism.

If you want to explore the other Southern Gulf Islands, read on for information about Galiano Island, Mayne Island, Pender Island, and Saturna Island